HC Deb 26 March 1929 vol 226 cc2342-8

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."


I suppose the Minister of Transport is in charge of this Bill?

Colonel ASHLEY



Then who is? I cannot conceive that nobody is prepared to answer questions on the Second Reading of the Bill. I do not know whether I should be in order in moving the adjournment of the Debate, but I have some simple questions to put, and if there is no one capable of answering them on behalf of the Government, I must ask you, Mr. Speaker, to accept a Motion for the adjournment of the Debate.


This is a private Bill; it would not be usual for a Minister to be on the Government Bench to reply to questions upon it.


I am ready, on behalf of the promoters, to answer any questions on the Bill.


I understand that, but I think it is customary for some Government Department to interest themselves in these private Bills.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The Chairman or Deputy-Chairman of Committees is officially in charge and moves the Second Reading of private Bills. That is the usual course, and it is generally supposed that any hon. Members who may wish to raise questions will state them and they may be answered in due course, but in any case there may be no obligation upon the Government to answer them.


I will leave that, but when important principles are involved in any private Bill, not only has the Chairman of Ways and Means moved its Second Reading, as being the officer in charge, but Members of the Ministry have been present to give the Government's view. I can recollect very many such cases, This is a Bill for permitting the London County Council to raise capital sums for the extension of their tram-ways, and before we consent to it I think we ought to know more about what is likely to happen to the tramways under the Council's other Bill. The question I want to address to the Minister of Transport is this: As far as one can judge, the progress of the Traffic Bill cannot result in its passage through both Houses before the Dissolution. Now what is the intention of the Government in regard to that matter? If the Traffic Bill does not pass, then I see no objection to this private Bill which gives the London County Council power to raise more money to extend their tramways. If, on the other hand, the Traffic Bill is to pass, there may be more matter for Debate; and, therefore, I ask the Government specifically what are their intentions in regard to the London Traffic Bill, in view of the fact—


On a point of Order. Is it in order for the hon. Member to drag in the Government?


I was waiting for the hon. Member to develop his argument, but he must remember that the London County Council already have powers, granted by an Act of this House, for the purpose of tramways, and this Bill is confined to giving them powers to borrow money. The principle has already been passed by the House.


I was not proposing to challenge the right of the London County Council at all. I was only raising the question of whether it is expedient to permit them to raise additional sums under the powers they already possess, in view of the present situation. It appears to be the case that the Traffic Bill is dead, and there seems to be no reasonable prospect that it can be passed before the Dissolution. If that be the case, there is no objection to this particular Bill, but if that be not the case, and if an attempt be made to keep that Traffic Bill alive over the Dissolution, we may have something to say about further money being raised by the County Council. Is it the intention of the Government to take any steps to carry this Traffic Bill over the Dissolution of Parliament?


I want to develop the suggestion brought before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr. Benn), by asking a few definite questions in connection with some of the sums of money that appear in the Schedule to this Bill. One of the largest items that appears under capital expenditure is to be found on page 6 of the Bill, item 5, where there is a sum of £675,000 that is to be expended under the Tramways Act on the construction, reconstruction, and equipment of tramways, provision of buildings, power-stations, machinery and rolling stock, and other purposes. In view of the proposed changes that the London County Council are anxious to see take place in London's traffic, as represented by the Bill which they are promoting in this House for the amalgamation of their system with other traffic services in London, I should like to know how much of this £675,000 is to be employed on new construction of tramways. Are they going to put down any short lengths of tramway lines?


The hon. Member is now raising a question of administration on the part of the London County Council, and I do not think it would be proper to discuss that on the Floor of this House.


This Bill asks me, as a Member of this House, to sanction the expenditure of £675,000 on tramways. How am I to give an opinion if I cannot have any information? I may be willing to vote this money if it is for the renewal of the present track, but, on the other hand—


The London County Council have already had powers granted to them to construct tramways, by various Acts passed by this House This Bill is only asking power to raise money for something which we have a ready allowed the County Council to do.


But the power is no good to them without the money, and if the House refuses to grant the money, what use is it to the County Council to have this power, and how can we come to a conclusion as to whether the money is to be granted?


It would not be much use granting the powers and withholding the means of raising the money.


Then why do we have this Bill before us at all?


If the hon. Member likes to vote against it, he can do so.


Perhaps I may follow my line of argument in another way, because the proposal in this Bill is to raise some £675,000, which is capital expenditure, to be used for the purposes of the tramways under the powers which have been granted to the council. I want to ask whether this money, when it has been expended under the new provisions of the Bill, will rank as capital under that scheme, and, if so, what is likely to be the return of interest that they are going to receive upon this money. I suppose I should be out of order in discussing whether it is advisable that the London County Council should go to the money market to raise money at the present time, in view of the fact that the money market is not in a very good condition for anybody to float a loan, and that, therefore, it might be wiser for the council to postpone the raising of this money for a little while. If the Traffic Bill goes through and the tramway service is passed over to the Combine, I understand that all the capital expenditure will rank for a certain dividend or rate of interest, and I should like to know from those who represent the county council whether they have any idea as to what return they will receive on the capital for power to borrow which they are now asking this House, and whether they are satisfied that the return will be larger from the new Combine than they would be charged in the London money market in order to raise their money.

Under the County Council Bill, the new traffic Combine are themselves to be given the power of raising additional capital upon the resources of the London County Council, as I understand it, and if so, is it advisable for the council to be raising this money? We are being asked in this Bill to sanction the raising of a sum of about £8,000,000. What is to be the position of the London County Council as a borrowing factor when they merge their trams into the traffic Combine? As far as I can understand it, they are giving the Combine certain powers of raising money on the rateable value of the London County Council, and I should like to have that point explained, because it might be wiser for the council to confine their borrowing powers simply to the Bill that they have before a Committee of the House of Commons, and not now to be launching into too large a scheme.

Another question that I would like to ask is whether the Ministerial veto in any way applies to the question of the capital expenditure of the London County Council. Certain powers are given to the Minister by which proposals have to have his sanction, and I should like to know how far the Minister will have a say before the Bill giving this power for raising money on the rates of London by the Combine is going to be finally passed. I would like some information on another Clause which also deals with the London County Council Tramways. A sum of £119,000 is to be expended in the acquisition of property, the execution of work and the widening of routes for the tramway services. Would it not have been better to have postponed that expenditure in order that that charge might be borne by the Combine, whose omnibuses will also benefit by this widening. Before we pass this Measure we ought to have some definite statement by one of the representatives of the London County Council on the exceedingly important matter of the effect that the powers given to the Combine of raising money upon the rates of London is going to have upon the Committee's powers of raising money also, and how far it is likely that they will have to pay a higher price for this money because of the fact that the money market will never know how soon another large body, of which they are a part, will also come and ask for fresh funds in order to extend the traffic facilities of London.


I have listened with a considerable amount of admiration to the very ingenious attempt of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Gillett) to get this Debate on to its legs. I do not know where he gets the suggestion that the Combine will have the power to raise money on the rateable value of London.


I got it from the London County Council (Co-ordination of Passenger Traffic) Bill, Clause 6, Paragraph (b A), which says: the development or extension of the associated undertakings or any of them or any parts thereof and the making of financial provision for facilitating the raising of additional capital or moneys for those purposes,


That is not on the rateable value of London, but on the total result of the co-operative work of the various undertakings, on the pooling of their work. Further powers would have to be acquired if such a proposal were to be effective. At least half the amount for which the London County Council are asking in this Bill in respect of tramways is for the enlargement of the subway from the Embankment to Southampton Row. Another large amount is for street widenings and extensions. All these works will he carried out under the assumption that the ownership of the tramways, even if these Bills go through, will remain with the London County Council, who will also be responsible for their maintenance, extension and improvement. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should suggest pending the fate of certain Bills which are now upstairs that the London County Council should cease to develop this undertaking. If the House refused to pass this Bill, it would mean that we should have to hold up the improvements and extensions which are necessary on the tramway undertakings. That is not the intention of the London County Council, and I hope that the House will not do anything to prevent the Council's property being developed and maintained to the utmost extent.


May I ask the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means whether it is his intention to put on the Paper a Motion before the end of this Parliament to carry the Traffic Bills over to the next Parliament?


I do not think that, this is a question that I can possibly answer at the present moment. I do not think that it arises on this Bill and that it would he proper for me to answer it on this occasion.

Captain FRASER

Under Section 17 of the Schedule is an item of £5,000 which has been allocated for the expenditure of certain institutions for the blind. That may or may not be a very desirable expenditure, but I want to be assured that it is not made at the expense of another reform in which London is very behindhand. In four or five provincial towns, such as Birkenhead, Hull, Gloucester and Sheffield, payments are made for unemployed blind persons on a scale which is higher than that which is in operation in London. I believe that the matter is under the consideration of the London County Council, and I should like to feel assured that they contemplate soon raising the London scale until it is at least comparable to that of these towns.


Only recently we had this matter brought to our notice by the Central Committee for the Care of the Blind of London. We have on the County Council a special committee for the welfare of the blind, and the matter is before that committee now. I understand that we shall shortly have the whole matter brought before the Council, and I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that it will be considered; I think that I may assure him that it will be considered favourably. I feel that we ought not to give less to these particular people than is given by the great cities of the country.

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